Faith in women

Muhammed Muheisen AP A Pakistani Christian woman prays during a Mass on Good Friday in a church in Islamabad, Pakistan, … Continued

Muhammed Muheisen


A Pakistani Christian woman prays during a Mass on Good Friday in a church in Islamabad, Pakistan, Friday, April 6, 2012.

The image of Pakistan in the West is dominated by negative news: extremism, terrorism, corruption, poor governance and the breakdown of law and order. This pervasive image also threatens the attitude of Pakistanis towards themselves in their own home country. Women and minorities suffer the most since the dominant narrative provides little impetus or motivation to change for better.

In this atmosphere, a first-ever event of its kind on interfaith by women for women arranged by Dr Marilyn Wyatt, wife of the American ambassador. Her team was a breath of fresh air, giving a platform for an array of women to express their unity as Pakistani women from many faiths.

Wyatt hosted the event in Pakistan on May 24, at the 150 year old Eidghah shrine in Pindi. Among the participants was a Baha’i, a young Hindu, a Christian professor and dean of Peshawar University, the Naqshband Sufi pir’s wife, the head of the Dawa Center for Women and the orthodox Muslim scholars dressed from head to toe in a black niqab. In the audience were more than 40 women leaders and heads of organizations and colleges as well as students and women representing these diverse communities. Our topic was the role of faith in womens’ everyday lives and how we can play a greater role in interfaith dialogue by putting faith into action. My role as moderator was to ensure that everyone had a chance to interact properly within the time frame and to remain focused.

I am Pakistani by birth, brought up in a convent and later educated at the University of Cambridge, UK. In studying Islam and interfaith harmony, I have been fortunate to work with wonderful people of many belief systems in setting up two education interfaith centers in Cambridge. After 9/11, there have been many notable interfaith initiatives around the world, but in Pakistan there have been very few such moves and even fewer such initiatives led by women with a focus on women, even though there are many good NGOs led by women. Interfaith dialogue among women is crucial for the healing of a country like Pakistan.

In an atmosphere where political relations between the US and Pakistan are tense and there are daily reports of Pakistani-U.S. breakdown, this woman-led initiative which was truly building bridges. Dr. Wyatt talked about America’s truest values– justice, compassion and equality- she promoted and embodied these qualities. Here was an example of women healing what seemed fractured. What many scholars have speculated seemed to come true before my eyes: the world would be more peaceful world if it were run by women.

In my introduction I reminded the audience that the divine name, Rehman, is derived from Rahma which is a word for the woman’s womb – a place that symbolizes tender love and the deepest of self-sacrificing compassion – and the love God has for us, humanity, is 99 times more than our own mothers’ love – a measure of love unimaginable by the human mind. It is this compassion towards “the other” that we must learn to embody in our daily lives and to teach our future generations to make our shared world a more peaceful and better place to live in.

Amineh Ahmed Hoti is Executive Director, Society for Dialogue and Action, Fellow Commoner, Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge University and author of “Sorrow and Joy Among Muslim Women”, Cambridge University Press, 2006. Dr. Hoti is currently setting up Educational and Citizenship Programs in Pakistan.

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  • Alex67

    Congratulations to these brave women for giving us hope in these turbulent times. This initiative deserves everyone’s support.

  • rentianxiang

    Dialogue between people of different faiths is fine, but we have to be honest about what is happening in Pakistan. The types of people who are involved in interfaith dialogue of this type are not the problem. The people that need to be convinced to accept others with different beliefs and to stop abusing women are the Islamic religious thugs that terrorize all non-Muslims and abuse Muslim women. The hudood laws need to be changed and the barbaric legal system, insofar as it is informed by the example of 7th century Arab warlords, needs to be reformed. As nice as it is to have pleasant dialogue, we have to address the real issue with honesty: Islamic law is inherently unjust ,particularly with its treatment of women.

  • sasj

    I think Amineh Ahmed is a ray of hope in an otherwise depressing atomsphere that exist here in Pakistan. You have to make a beginning somewhere and I think Mrs. Ambassador tackled the right person to start an interfaith dialogue in Pakis
    tan following in the footsteps of her father Akbar Ahmed who is doing a hurclean task on the same lines in the US.
    As regards Mr. Rentianxiang comment on Islam’s treatment of women I feel it represents an Islamophobic opinion not well versed about the Quran. I suggest he first read Sura Nur before he makes such comments.

  • sasj

    Amineh Ahmed’s attempt at interfaith in an otherwise male-dominated Pakistani society is a bold and brave attempt at telling us to follow in the footsteps of the Holy Prophet Muhammed (Pbuh) who placed women on the highest pedestal than any other faith. I would like to remind Mr. ……… that the Former Punjab Governor Salman Taseer paid the highest price trying to find justice for a Hindu lady on death row.

  • Secular1

    “This pervasive image also threatens the attitude of Pakistanis towards themselves in their own home country. Women and minorities suffer the most since the dominant narrative provides little impetus or motivation to change for better.” so it is the rest of the world’s fault that it does not delude itself about pakistan, into believing all’s well there. So in the when the fact is dismal, rest of teh world is supposed to do what? Just stick its head in the sand and say things are not a bad. Then they oppressors will be continue becaus eof the positive feedback. They will increase their atrocities. Then again it will be the ROW’s fault for encouraging them.

  • Secular1

    Enough sasj, this homilies about MO, putting wome on teh highest pedestal, nonsense. There was no need to put women on the highest pedestal, juts treat them as you would treat any other man. This is the biggest con ya’ll perpetuate. BTW,what point are you trying to make with “I would like to remind Mr. ……… that the Former Punjab Governor Salman Taseer paid the highest price trying to find justice for a Hindu lady on death row.” this? The fact that the Governor Salaman gave his life to find justice for a minority women does not say any thing positive about your beloved pakistan. It says great things about the deceased governor and an indictment of that wretched country.

  • Secular1

    sasj, spoken like a true apologist. Coming from pakistan you must have heard the adage “One Swallow, does not make spring”. So stop hurling the nonsense of islamophobia. That wretched country was founded on bigotry by the bigots and led by a narcissistic atheist of recent muslim heritage ( a narcissistic fool, who preferred to be a big fish in a small pond than a smaller fish in a big pond). So it is in the quandary it finds itself, a failed state.

  • rentianxiang

    I have read the quran, many of the hadith, and biographies of Islam’s prophet Muhammed. I have also traveled in Pakistan and saw firsthand how Islam is manifest in that country. Your typical use of the word “islamophobia” just reveals how closed-minded you are. If anyone dares to say something negative about Islam, they are automatically an Islamophobe? Nonsense. I am fairly well-informed about Islam and I just happen to disagree with many of the tenets of your faith, many parts of Shariah, and find quite a bit of the behavior of Islam’s prophet to be something less than deserving imitation. I have read the Sura Nur, as well as the rest of the Quran and we can all see the historical issues with the application of Islamic law with respect to the treatment of women. Hiding your head in the sand, denying these problems, and labeling all those that simply point out the facts as Islamophobes does nothing to improve the situation and only furthers the abuse of women in Islam.

  • rentianxiang

    From Sura Nur, the source of the hudood laws in Pakistan which send women to prison for the crime of being raped but not being able to produce four witnesses.

    ” And those who accuse chaste women, and produce not four witnesses, flog them with eighty stripes, and reject their testimony forever, they indeed are the Fasiqun (liars, rebellious, disobedient to Allah).”

    In Sura Nur it also lays down the rule for women to lower their gaze and to cover themselves up. No such rules for men though. Also, funny how it goes on about accusations against women who are not chaste. Funny how it does not feel the need to mention accusations against men so much. This is because it was written over a thousand years ago when women were thought of as the possession’s of men and women’s chastity was a source of honor and all of that. Yes, Sasj, I suggest you also read Sura Nur. Don’t forget the part in the beginning about the flogging and stoning punishments. Yeah, good reading. Thanks for reminding me!

  • sasj

    Rentianxiang it is amazing that you say you have read Sura Nur ‘as well as the rest of the Quran’ and yet you find The Quran and Islamic Laws repugnant to the treatment of women. Can you quote one verse from Sura Nur which is repugnant to the treatment of Women? What does the Quran say regarding the accusation of adultery by a husband against his wife. I would like to hear your opinion!!!
    As regards Mr. Seculari he speaks like a typical bigot and an Islamophobic; he spews out nothing but venom against Pakistan, and Islam.
    If Pakistan were a failed state it should have caved in to Talibans of all hue and joined hands with them. Six thousand defence personnel and 37,000 civilians dead because of suicide attacks speaks volumes about our earnest desire to fight terrorism. We are not interested in impressing anyone, we are fighting for survival and those who are distorting Islam and it is because of them that we have bigots like you calling the real Islam names.

  • sasj

    What nonsense, “treat women as any other man.” Salman Taseer’s case is meant to remind you that not all Pakistanis are as bigotted as you are. Moron!!!!

  • sasj

    Mr. Rentianxing you are an educated person you quote Sura Nur and yet you cannot differentiate between ‘Rape’ and ‘adultery’. Please read the Quran a little more carefully. All men are also told to lower their gaze they are also told not to look at a woman a second time if they happen to gaze at them once by chance.

  • Secular1

    SSJ, what is your point that once there lived a man in pakistan who was not a bigot. Certainly I acknowledged that. Again that it is indeed a great thing about Mr. Taseer. That in no way says much for pakistan, that wretched failed state. Again ssj your beloved pakistan is a sorry excuse for a nation state in 21st century. I am not impressed that not every pakistani is necessarily a bigot.

  • Secular1

    ssj, the fact of the matter is that pakistani society has by and large caved into the taliban and al qaeeda. The fact that 37,00 were killed does not say much. In fact if any it actually shows that how pervasively the whole society is guilty of bigotry. Your beloved pakistan was born of bigotry and has never matured out of it. So it still wallows in its own scum of bigotry.

  • rentianxiang

    It is not yours truly that cannot differentiate between rape and adultery but rather Islamic law. In fact, when a woman reports a rape, it will be considered an unsupported accusation unless she can produce four witnesses. Since this is almost never the case, since the rape will not occur in view of others, the women will then be accused of having committed adultery or fornication since they admitted to having sex outside of wedlock. In fact, this scenario represents the reason for the incarceration of most female inmates in Pakistan’s prisons. Simply unconscionable and founded on both the Quran and the Hadith as a result of the accusations against Aisha. As for your statement that you can’t believe that, after having read the Quran, I would still think that the laws of Islam are repugnant to women, I can’t see how, after having read the Quran, you could think that Islam treats women fairly. You are entitled to your point of view but I do not believe in defined gender roles and I believe in the equality of all, regardless of gender. I hardly feel it necessary to recount the parts of the Quran and the Hadith that condone beating of wives for disobedience, issues of discrimination with respect to testimony, freedom to marry outside of the religion (which men can do but women can not due to the patriarchal Arab tribal notion of religion being passed down from the father), rules of covering the hair/head, the fact that men can have four wives, etc. Why not let women have four husbands, just as long as she treats them all equally? Why not allow the wives to beat disobedient husbands? Why not discount the testimony of men as to be worth only that of half that of women? Why not force men to cover their heads?

    As for the role of Pakistan with respect to fighting terrorism, the record has been spotty at best and the history of Pakistan, through the ISI and various Pakistani governments, supporting the Taliban is well-documented.

  • thepcinquirer

    In a country with a population of 180million if ONE man’s case is supposed to prove not all Pakistanis are alike that’s a bit pathetic. and btw it was a Christian woman on death row, not a Hindu.

    Why do people with stupid comments always end with a personal insult towards whom they are responding? Is that supposed to make people view your comment in a positive light??

    There is way too much immaturity in my country (Pakistan).